Monthly Archives: April 2014

Quick couple of days in Cartagena, Columbia

A friends daughter was getting married in Cartagena and on first glance you think really have these kids gone crazy with their destination weddings. On second thought, you look at the invitation and think why not. I had never been to that part of the world and I always loved a party. It was a full day of travel and several flights to get there. I arrived late in the evening and got a cab to the hotel, $10.00 you can use local peso or US dollars. I stayed in a small hotel called Casa del Arzobispado, in the center of the walled city and easy to walk every place. When they took me to my room it was dark out and so I just went to bed, but when I woke in the morning I realized that my room had no windows. there were two small port holes above the door up about 12 feet. When I went to the desk and complained they did not offer to move me, and since I was not in the room much I just would leave the door open during the afternoon when I was in the room. Lovely flowers trailed along the banister since I was on the second floor over looking the pool. I do have to say that the woman giving massages in the afternoon did an amazing job. There was a small space behind the pool that had a massage table set up and sheer curtains blowing in the breeze. the massage was around $50 for an hour and worth every penny. I went two days in a row and could have squeezed in another if I had time.

A couple of other hotels that guests were staying in worth looking at were:Casa San Augustin or Hotel Charlston both on a grander scale but lovely and offering full bar service and restaurants on site.

Since the wedding venue was busy we only had a few free moments each day to explore and eat in some of the local restaurants. I had a very nice lunch in an upscale restaurant around the corner from the hotel, El Perla, offering beautiful ceviche, thin sliced beef carpaccio, followed by several nice salads of tomatoes and local greens. The wine by the glass was from Chili, Argentina and of course a few selections from Calif. .  The wedding party took us to cocktails one evening along the walls of the city where they served local drinks of every kind, most with a great serving of rum. They had a group of open local buses take us on a fun after dark tour of the city with flashing lights and loud music setting the tone.

The next morning we were taken by speed boats to a private island about 45 minutes across the sea for a day on the beach, more drinks and fresh fruit and a lunch of local fish, chicken with a spicy sauce, rice, beans and grilled vegetables.  there are several of these small islands open to other for a day trip or a place to spend several nights. If you want to get away from the heat and have a quiet rest look into one of these islands.  

Back in the city and after a rest I joined a couple of other friends and we went to dinner at a lovely restaurant called Vera in the Hotel Tcherassi.  When you enter behind the huge doors you walk into a cool garden hung wall with clean white chairs and table cloth covered tables. Men are required to wear pants, no shorts. However, shorts are fine at lunch. We shared several plates and each was better than the next. Their octopus was a great starter, crisp and cooked on a grill to perfection, the salad of watercress and micro greens topped with orange slices and dressed with a light orange dressing was so good. then we shared 2 pastas including a ravioli filled with crab and a light oil herb sauce.

We could have stayed all evening eating our way through each course but it was time to go. Put Vera on your list if you are in the city, located on Calle del Sargento Mayor # 6-21. Two other places we tried to eat in were Barzurto Social Club and the bar next door both were closed on Sunday. We were told they had great music and fun simple menu. Next time! thank you to our friends for an adventure to remember.

 

   

 

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Waldorf Salad

Serves 6 – 8 as a starter salad

PREP
1 head of grilled radicchio
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper

Cut radicchio into quarters, leaving stem attached to each piece.  Brush each quarter with oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on a grill pan or barbeque about 5 to 7 minutes, flipping to lightly char all sides.  Remove to cool and slice into thin pieces.

WALNUT VINAIGRETTE

½ cup corn oil
¼ cup walnut oil
½ cup spiced walnuts or pecans (note I bought a package called Shale with maple glaze and cherries)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons water
Salt to taste

Place nuts and oils in a blender and mix until smooth.  Wash and dry blender then add all remaining ingredients and blend, once blended slowly add oil and nut mixture.  Set aside.

SALAD

2 cups gala or honeycrisp apples peeled and cut into ½ inch dice.
1 ½ – 2 cups red, seedless grapes, halved
1 ½ cups celery cut into ½ inch dice
1/3 cup mayonnaise
5 Belgian endive, diced (or ¾ cup yellow frisẻe)
½ cup chopped celery leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Toss apples, grapes, celery and radicchio with mayonnaise, lemon juice and olive oil, then toss with celery leaves and endive (or frisẻe is that is what you used).  Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette.

Plate salad and drizzle drops of vinaigrette around plate.  Sprinkle additional spiced nuts on top of each salad.  Note:  if you buy spiced nuts with cherries or cranberries in the mix, chop and ad them also.

Great with grilled meat or chicken.

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JALAPẼNO CORNBREAD

12 to 15 Servings

INGREDIENTS
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups pastry flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup corn oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 jalapẽnos, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F if using a convention oven)
Grease a large baking pan (approximately 9 inches by 13 inches) with butter or pan spray.

In a bowl of a standing mixer, combine the cornmeal, all-purpose flour, pastry flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs, buttermilk, whole milk, sour cream, corn oil, vanilla extract, jalapẽnos and red bell pepper.  Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low speed until well-combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the melted butter.  Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and mix the batter for an additional 2 minutes.

Pour the cornbread batter into the prepared pan.  Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes.  Test doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cornbread.  The cornbread is finished baking when the toothpick comes out clean.  Remove the pan from the oven, place onto a baking rack and let cool.

TO SERVE:  Slice into squares and serve

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Myanmar through my eyes

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Myanmar/Burma with several friends. This is a country that is ready to explode with tourists. They have doubled their American tourists in the past 2 years and you could see in each city changes that are occurring. Before I begin to talk about the country and its people a few house keeping notes.

First we organized our own tour with the help of Country Holidays, a travel company out of Singapore,— http://www.countryholidays.com.sg. This is the 2nd time we have engaged Country Holiday to assist in Asian travels and I must tell everyone, they once again organized an over the top trip.  Our direct contact is Sheena Seah, her email is sheena@countryholidays.com.sg. I can not say enough great things about Sheena, every detail was addressed and since we were conducting business over the internet that is saying a lot.

We departed from Singapore for Yangon for our first night. We were met by our guide and ventured out to the Gem Museum to see all the fine stones that are found in the mines of Myanmar, sapphires in every shade of blue. There were also rubies and many different sizes and types of pearls.

A couple of the ladies did buy pearl earrings and one purchased a beautiful ring. The prices were very good and everyone loved the opportunity to negotiate for the best price available. (Dr. Khin at May Mon Jewels was a great help, be sure to stop by her booth.) We felt that by shopping for high quality stones in this museum we were guaranteed to be buying good quality and that the stones/pearls would not be fakes.

We continued on a quick over view tour of the city and headed to lunch at Monsoon Restaurant for our first real Myanmar food.  The dishes we enjoyed were a mix of Indian and Chinese flavors. It is the way that the ingredients are combined that makes the cuisine different. You will find a mild version of curries using fish, pork and beef. The vegetables are clean and crisp, much like Chinese stir fry or wrapped in banana leaves then steamed or grilled. Many dishes come with a version of the noodles of China and rice or chickpeas. You will love the use of palm sugar, coconut milk and sour tamarind in main dishes as well as their many sweet deserts.

On the way to our hotel, The Governors Residence, we stopped for a tour of the old grand hotel of the city, The Strand Hotel. It was lovely and I am sure it was the best in its day. However, I vote for our hotel with a beautiful pool and large cool rooms in a garden setting, including an open air bar and restaurant for dining or just enjoying that before dinner drink.

We dropped our things off at the hotel and had a rest before heading out to the most unbelievable spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda. It is hard to describe the energy you felt as you walk through this massive structure. There were hundreds of families sharing moments in their own special way, some in celebration of young men going to expereince monk hood, others celebrating a passing life. You will need to remove your shoes at every pagoda so having bare feet is something you will get use to as you venture through this country. After we watched the sunset from the high walls of the pagoda we ventured back to the hotel where we ate dinner and got to bed early. Most of the flights in Myanmar will depart early.

We boarded our 6 am flight to Mandalay after only one day in Yangon. Arriving in Mandalay we were met by our new guide and headed out to see a few of the temples along the way. We stopped in Palelk to visit the snake temple. Yes, there are real snakes wrapped around the Buddha’s neck and arm. They seem to be very happy protecting the place, and were well taken care of. There are over 300 lesser know temples some of them now grown over by trees and vegetation. We wandered through the area and visited a fabric weaving project and wonderful small village along the river.
We stayed at The Sedona Hotel, a large modern structure across from the Royal palace, surrounded by a mote the walls are almost 2km long. with 12 entrances. We dropped our luggage and went to lunch behind the hotel at a restaurant called “Unique”, good local food, the menu offered Thai and Chinese as well as a few of Burma’s curry dishes. Then out to Kuthodaw Pagoda which is surrounded by over 729 individual pagodas. Each of the smaller structures house 1 stone tablets upon which over 2,400 monks carved the entire Tipitaka, reproduced page for page.
We then went to watch the process of making gold leaf, a worker begins with a small 2.5 cm x 1 cm gold leaf and after pounding with a wooden mallet for about 6 1/2 hours with several rests and resizing the end result is a piece that is cut into a packet of 10 ultra thin 2.5 sq.cm of gold.  We then visited a couple of local work shops, wood carvers making masks and puppets. We did buy a couple of fun puppets and a few antique lacquer pieces, be sure to negotiate for price!!!

Our guide No Nyan Lwin: nyanmyohtel@gmail.com, was so patient as we shopped in the markets and asked many questions about how these temples and structures were built. We did a quick stop at one of the holiest pagodas of the area, Mohamuni Pagoda, before heading out to watch the sunset as we walked across the U Being Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. What a way to finish the day.
We had a simple dinner in the hotel and went to bed early since we had to get up early for a short cruise on the Ayeyarwady River. We boarded our wooden boat for a cruise to visit Mingus. When we pulled into where the boat would be held while we walked through the area we were met by carts drawn by cows/bulls, their taxi service.
There are ladies and kids running after you trying to sell you beads, cotton pants and hats. If you do decide to buy something, remember the price they ask is about double what you are going to end up paying, enjoy the art of bargaining! As you walk through the ruins in this area you will realize that the king of this time, 1790, wanted to have everything be created to be the biggest. You will see the world’s largest working bell. Then walk a short distance to see Bodawpaya’s pagoda, at first it appears to be a huge pile of bricks, 330 ft. tall., There is a story that the tooth of the Buddha was a gift to the king and he had this pagoda built to house it. It was really never finished and then an earthquake struck and caused a lot of damage. Close to the other memorable sights sits the Hsinbyume Pagoda, worth the climb up the flight of white stairs. We jumped on one of the cow drawn carts and headed back to the boat for lunch of stir friend pea pods, carrots and chicken curry with a lovely dish of rice. While we were sharing lunch and watching the busy work along the river banks pass we enjoyed the leisure two hour cruise to AVA.
When we arrived on the river banks of AVA we boarded horse drawn carts to travel on the dirt roads through the country side and visit many ancient temples that must have been majestic building during the 400 years that Ava was the capital. After about an hour we were back at the river banks to transfer across to the landing where our  driver pick us up and on the way back to the hotel we had a stop at “The Phaung Daw Oo School and Orphanage—www.phaungdawoo.org—. This was a very special moment in our day. The school houses kids that attend school during the year and then stay during the vacation since many of their families live to far away. Plus they have an orphanage for children that have no family. We gave them things for the school and visited with the staff. Before we left we pooled a small amount of cash as a donation. If you are in the area try to stop for a visit.
Up early for a flight to Bagan, we were the only 4 people on the flight with a whole crew, a true private flight better than net jet. It was very hot upon our arrival, about 100, so be prepared. After a short drive and visit to two beautiful temples, Ananda and Gubyaukgyi known for  its famous frescoes.  While driving along the back roads you will see temples, stupa and pagodas in every direction.  All of the sudden, we arrived under a huge tree and were treated to a fun picnic of local food. They had set up rugs on the sand, a huge red umbrella protecting us from the sun, and a picnic basket full of  simple pork curry, fresh veggies with noodles a chilled bean salad topped with local crushed peanuts. Plenty to drink and nice china plates, chopsticks  along with cookies and candy to finish our surprise lunch. Our guide and driver came back in about an hour and picked us up with a big smile on their faces.

Then off to our hotel, ” Aubeum Palace, Jasmine Villa” for a dip in the infinity pool and a rest before an early evening tour through the many ruins in horse drawn carts. We ended by climbing the Pyathagyi Pagoda to watch the sunset then back to the hotel. There were two restaurants at the hotel so we just rested and enjoyed local fare at the hotel.  (PS. there is a cash machine in the lobby and good WIFI connection in the lobby, since you will need small local money for tips and to buy any small souvenirs)
Up early, 6am, for a magical hot air balloon ride over old Bagan and back at the hotel by 8:30 for breakfast. (Be sure to go on the hot air balloons it was wonderful)!!!
We ventured out to visit the local markets in Pakokku, it was about an hour away but great people watching and huge array of food and products all being sold to locals. We were the only Americans that we saw. On the way back we stopped for lunch at a place called “Queen”, it was along the highway but a great find. The entire lunch was about $15 for the 4 of us including fruit drinks. Be sure to allow yourself time to rest during the heat of the day. Then at sunset we went on a river cruise along the Ayeyarwady River, enjoyed all the river traffic and watched the sunset with a backdrop of many stupa’s and pagodas.
Next day we flew to Inle Lake and the cool air of a region, about 3000 feet above sea level. We arrived at Heho airport and our driver and guide pick us up and we headed out to a huge local market in the town of Nyaung Shwe. It is called the 5 day market because it rotates cities and only is back in this village in 5 days, so the selection of food to buy and fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and home products was over whelming. When we left we made a stop at the Yan Pyay monastery, where the young monks were having lunch and we watched them looking at their cell phones and chatting. It was a wonderful stop and the small temple next door had many little shrines dedicated to visitors from around the world.
Off to lunch at a local restaurant called “Viewpoint Lodge” located along one of the many canals. The lunch was one of the most interesting selections of local fare, served on small plates. We shared small servings of fish wrapped in banana leaf, taro chips with a dip of chick peas. Fried prawns like tempura, served with Burmese Balchaung, a combination of fried garlic and onions, dried pounded prawns, vinegar and chili powder. Sour, hot, salty and crisp. The Viewpoint lodge also had rooms to rent and the location next to the new bridge being built was fun people watching.
After lunch we boarded long boats for our 45 minute ride to our hotel “Villa Inle Resort”, our bags had gone ahead and were waiting for us upon our arrival. The lake is about 60 square mile lake. The trip was a wonderful snarl of weeds, fishermen rowing their wooden boats with one leg wrapped around the paddle. Our hotel was located on the banks of the lake about 36 individual cabins with every detail taken care of. We all headed to the spa, I enjoyed a great 90 minute massage for $50.00 and went back the next day for another, we had a massage that combined the Thai and reflexology, it was a perfect choice after so many days of traveling.
We had dinner at the hotel dining room since there is no place to go, they had a nice menu of Thai and Burmese cuisine and a simple wine list, but good values.
The next morning we were picked up early, stepped into our wooden boat and headed to tour the floating gardens. These gardens, called Kyunpaw are cultivated from boats, usually by the women. We saw rows of tomatoes, beans and cucumbers, but they grow crops year round rotating flowers and vegetables. These gardens are another good source of income for the Intha people. The men are fishermen rowing their slender boats through the water with one leg wrapped around the ore their eyes looking for any movement so they can drop their nets.
When we left the floating gardens we headed out across the lake to visit Phaungdaw U Pagoda and our boat driver worked our little boat through narrow channels. We passed several other hotels along the lake, Paradise Resort was over the water and we also saw a lovely resort, Ana Heritage. Both were more centrally located but we liked our place on solid ground.
It was time for lunch and our guide had reserved at “Inthar Heritage House” we had a great lunch and spent time enjoying the beautiful Burmese cats that are being breed here. This area is home to the Pa O Village people, they are very proud weavers, and have a big factory making cheroot cigars.
The last morning we were picked up early by our boat and guide, we headed back across the lake, about 45 minute ride, to the boat launch to meet our car then off to catch the airport. We flew to Yangon to connect to our flight back to Singapore. Since we and several hours in Yangon we had a driver take us to lunch at Padonmar Restaurant for our last feast on local food.
Back at the airport waited for our departure to Singapore, loaded with all our treasures and memories.

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